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News: Karen B. London
Why Do You Love Your Pets?
Share your answer with the Texas SPCA.

If you love your dogs so much that you can hardly stop yourself from shouting it from the rooftops, then you are not alone. (Unless you really ARE by yourself on top of your house proclaiming your feelings for them. In that case technically you are alone, but that’s not really the point here.) We humans love our pets so much that it’s easy to go crazy expressing our views.

In recognition of the desire to explain how profoundly we love our pets and why, the Texas SPCA is holding a contest called “Love For All Reasons.” Winners of the contest will have their photo with their pets featured in an online video about the reasons people love their pets.

Check out the contest and consider making a donation to any place that takes care of pets who don’t currently have a home.  Every donation provides opportunities for more animals to experience a love so intense that it takes more than one species to contain it.

So, get off your roof and enter the contest. It’s a much better way to tell the world why you love your dogs. And until then, watch your step up there.

News: Guest Posts
Life with an Autism Service Dog, Part III
Jingle knows her girl.

[Below are excerpts from Michelle O’Neil's blog about her daughter Riley’s autism service dog, which she got earlier this month. In these entries, O’Neil writes about the second half of training at 4 Paws for Ability with Jingle.]

Day 5, Behavior Disruption
Today at training Riley came running in from the kid’s area, crying. She stomped up and down a couple of times and shrieked, “I was trying to tear a picture out of a coloring book, and it ripped, and I crumpled it up and now all my friends are MAD AT ME!!!! WAHHHH!!!!!”

“Riley, why didn’t you ask for help?” I asked.  

That did it.

“I’m not a baaaaaaby!” she wailed.    

I sat her on the mat in front of me and immediately gave Jingle the “lap” command. Jingle sprung to action, she started down by Riley’s knees, and I gave her treats as she inched her way up to Riley’s lap. After the treats, she just stayed there, her body providing deep pressure. I talked to Jingle in a soothing tone, telling her what a good girl she was. Riley started to pet her. We just sat like that, petting Jingle and I could feel Riley’s body start to relax. It didn’t take long, maybe five minutes, definitely less than ten. Then, when she was calm, Riley just got up and marched herself out of the room and back to the play area. We didn’t need to discuss it. She was okay.

This is exactly what we were hoping for.  I sit here trying to think of a pithy ending for this post, but there are no words.

Amen.  

Go to Bed
Last night, we put the kids down in the next room, and my husband, Todd, stood at the door to the bedroom. He looked at Jingle, motioned with his arm toward the door, and said, “Jingle, go to bed!” She hopped up from the floor, ran into the bedroom and jumped up onto Riley’s bed. She stayed with her all night.

She knows who her girl is.

Day 6, Can I pet your dog?
Prior to meeting Jingle, I thought there would be a “mitts off” rule around Riley’s service dog. I imagined myself having to correct adults and children alike, “No, she’s working,” etc.  Some folks receiving service dogs will undoubtedly do just that, but 4 Paws says it is for each client to decide. Chloe, a teen reader of this blog who just got her Asperger’s service dog in August, says it sometimes feels invasive when people approach her dog. I have already been stopped numerous times at the mall by well-meaning people who ask about Jingle. I love introducing her and talking about her but I guess that could get old.

We’re going to have to figure out what feels comfortable for Riley. So far she has been open to it, but we will absolutely let it be her prerogative, and I guess she might feel differently about it on different days. Perhaps we can put an “I’m working” sign on Jingle when Riley doesn’t feel like interacting with people out in public, and take it off when she does.

We made our second trip to the mall today and Jingle was the perfect angel. She held the heel command even when I took her into loud busy stores. She is so smart! She didn’t want me putting the Gentle Leader back on her!  

Riley had another upset today, came in crying from the kid’s area, and we practiced the “over” command again. We got Jingle to put her body over Riley’s lap, and Riley pet her as we praised her. Jingle is definitely motivated by the treats at this point, and not by an altruistic goal to help Riley, but they are bonding more and more with each passing day. Todd is still her sweetheart (full tail wags when he comes in sight), but she’s responding better to me.

Jingle sat on the seat in the car today with her head on Seth’s lap, which thrilled him to no end. We also let him give her the peanut butter filled Kong, but are saving the Pupperonis (doggie crack) for Riley to give. Todd and I are using biscuits for the obedience piece. We are all feeling a little bit more relaxed about the whole thing, and not like we have to get everything perfect, right this minute. It is a process, one that will continue to evolve long after we’ve left 4 Paws and headed back to Cleveland.

Day 7
I know it makes no sense, but when a staff member at 4 Paws showed me a picture she carries of Jingle on her cell phone, and said, “She’s been one of the staff favorites,” I felt such pride! As if I had something to do with her good looks and winning personality.

Jingle is such a good dog! Today we practiced more obedience, and the “touch” command. When a child is upset/crying, the dog is taught to touch them on the leg, “Tap, tap, hello? Look at me kid! Whaddya say we change the subject? Aren’t I cute? Got any treats?”   

We are having to modify the command, because we found out today (thankfully on me) Jingle’s nails are powerful! It’s like she’s digging a rake into your thigh. So, Jingle is only touching Riley’s sneaker for now. We will work on touching the side of her paw, to the side of Riley’s leg, more like a brush with the back of her paw rather than the clawing action she’s got going on now. Jingle is intense. You tell her “touch,” and she wants to do it. With gusto!

“See what a good girl I am? I will really touch like I mean it!”

Ouch!

Yesterday, we watched the dogs practice tethering. It was amazing. The tether strap is attached to the child’s belt, or vest, and the dogs lie on the ground and will not budge. This gives kids with autism so much more freedom out in public. The parents don’t have to constantly hold onto their hands. Riley doesn’t need tethering, but Todd and I both helped by acting as the kids for the training. We tugged and pulled and those sweet dogs, just did what they were trained to do. Even if they were pulled, they stayed in the down position, being dragged slowly across the floor if need be. For those autistic kids who are escape artists, it is like lugging a 50-100 pound weight depending on the dog. It really slows them down. All of the dogs have had basic training in tethering but we were fine-tuning. Tethering is going to open up the world for these families.  

Day 8
Jingle peed in the elevator! She got so scared, it just kinda happened, even though she had gone potty on the way into the mall. I’ve not spent so much time in a mall since I was a teenager with permed hair working at the Oakdale Mall in Johnson City, NY. I was sixteen, blowing all my money on clothes and hair products. Ah, those were the days.

Wait, where was I? Ah yes, Jingle peed.

Even though she is a well-trained dog, there are always going to be situations she is unfamiliar with. She is not a robot. She is a dog, and she has fears and feelings. This is why it is important to get her out as much as possible, in as many situations as we can while we are here, and after we go home. The great thing about Jingle is she’s a quick learner. First time in this particular elevator, she pees. Second time. She was fine. She was scared of a certain set of stairs at the mall too, but we went over them just a couple of times and she did much better.

We’re back at the hotel now, chilling out. The kids are watching Arthur, and Jingle is snoozing on her Mutt Matt. The Mutt Matt is Jingle’s “place.” A “place” is a little rug or matt the dog uses when put in a stay-type mode. It is the spot she will stay on in class if she goes to school. The “place” command is a stay command. They are allowed to move around, stand, stretch, but they have to keep at least two paws on the matt. Jingle will push it, she will be completely off the matt with just her two hind paws on the outside seam, but she’s technically still on her “place,” so we can’t get on her. If Jingle has been put in a “place” command she has to stay for as long as we tell her, until we give her the “free” command.  It can be minutes or hours. All of the dogs understand “place” and it is incredible how they stay on those matts, even if someone deliberately drops a treat a few feet away to test them.

It will never cease to amaze me how you can have 13 dogs in one room, all of them behaving.

Day 9
Today we worked on more obedience and went over many possible scenarios that might play out when we get home, like meeting other dogs. Then, Jeremy the trainer put the fear of God in us about a condition called gastric torsion, which can happen if a dog gulps down its food too fast and then runs around playing wildly after a meal. What happens is the food sits like a huge heavy lump in the dog’s stomach, and then when they get running around, the stomach can flip, twisting the tubes where the esophagus and the small intestine connect to it, creating gas build up and bloat. Jeremy lost a beloved German Shepherd to the condition and his main reason in scaring us half to death was to drive home the point, “Listen to your intuition if you think something is wrong with your dog.” His vet blew off his concerns.

Hmm….a doctor blowing off a “parent’s” concerns. Sounds vaguely familiar.

Listen to your Inner Guidance. Got it. Absolutely. Will do.

Tomorrow is the big test. If Jingle passes she is officially our service dog and we can take her home! She’ll be at the mall with Todd (since between the two of us she loves him best) demonstrating all the commands. She’ll be walking through crowded stores, dealing with strangers, navigating the food court, sitting under a table, heeling, sitting, staying down. She’ll be doing the elevator again (please don’t pee Jingle or you won’t pass)! Todd has to demonstrate he can handle her well.

Yes, she loves Todd, but she knows who her girl is. Any time Riley comes near her the tail goes wild, and today at training Riley crossed the room on her way to the bathroom and Jingle never took her eyes off of her. She watched the bathroom door until Riley came out and watched her again as she walked all the way back to the play area.

So, if all goes well, tomorrow we head home … and Jingle meets the cats. Insert scary music.

Pray for us.

News: Karen B. London
Dog Halloween Costumes
Scary for our four-legged friends

It’s hard to resist the urge to put dogs in costumes. The cuteness factor can fly off the charts, and for many people, dressing up our dogs is as natural as dressing up our human children. Despite my recognition of the joy it can bring to see our pups parading around as cowgirls, devils, sports stars or Elvis, I urge caution when considering costumes for dogs.

Most dogs hate costumes. They easily become stressed and uncomfortable when wearing clothing, especially anything on the head or around the body. In the picture with this blog, the dog dressed up as a quarterback looks tense, with the closed mouth so indicative of a dog who is not comfortable, and he seems frozen in angst. In contrast, the dog behind him, sans costume, has a happy face and a relaxed body. I took this photo at a dog camp where all over the room on dress up night I saw unhappy dogs in costumes and cheerful dogs in their birthday suits.

If you simply must have your dog participate in this holiday, costumes that don’t impair dogs’ movements are best. Since most dogs are accustomed to wearing collars, small costumes that consist of something around the neck are the most easily tolerated. The key word is “small.” Rather than dress a dog up in a full tuxedo, for example, having him sport just a small bow tie may be easier for your dog to handle. This can be a great compromise that works for both people and dogs.

Costumes that dogs barely notice are great options. My dog was a skunk for Halloween one year. Being all black, the entire costume consisted of baby powder applied in a strip down his back—cute, easy and not bothersome to him. (Some dogs may even object to baby powder, but mine was fine with it.)

Even better is what my aunt used to tell trick-or-treaters about her dog Nellie who was a cross between a Beagle and a Lab: “What do you think of my cat’s costume? Doesn’t she look exactly like a dog?” My aunt could then have her dog take part in the spirit of the holiday without any ill effects. The older kids gave a little laugh, but the littlest kids were awed by Nellie’s “costume.”

News: Guest Posts
Tip Sheet: Hiring A Dog-Sitter
Traveling this holiday? Reserve your dog-sitter now.

My nephews are two of the best things to happen to my dogs and me in the past couple years. These responsible, compassionate, dog-loving 20-somethings settled in Seattle after college and have so far proven willing and eager to house- and dog-sit pretty much every time we ask. A cloud of worry and stress has lifted. Anyone who has more than one dog or a dog with special needs—such as separation anxiety—will understand the challenge of finding a sitter you and the pups trust and adore. And that’s the goal, right?

If not for Tyson and JB, I’d be starting to get a pit in my stomach about now—with holiday travel plans cranking up. Mind you, that doesn’t mean I’d get a jump on the problem; I generally exacerbate my troubles by procrastinating. So this is a do-as-I-say-not-as-I-normally-do tips list for selecting a dog sitter.

1. Get a move on. Land the sitter of your dreams by booking early. (You are not the only person who needs a sitter during the holidays.)

2. Interview several sitters to find the best fit for your needs. Ask your veterinarian, dog trainer, agility coach, friends at the dog park, even the pros at your pet supply shop for recommendations. The National Association of Professional Pet Sitters (NAPSS) provides a nationwide referral network searchable by zip code.

3. Ask for each sitter’s references—and call them. Slick websites and display ads in phone directories can be deceiving. The only way you can gauge a sitter is past performance. Not only will you cull the bad seeds but talking to happy clients will increase your confidence when you’re away from home.

4. Be clear about your expectations. Don’t be afraid to say you want the sitter around for a certain number of hours a day or expect your dog to be walked for two hours or brushed before bed, read to … whatever. It’s your dime.

5. Walk together with the dogs. How is your perspective sitter interacting well with your dog or dogs? Are they enjoying their time with the sitter? This is a good time to talk over your dog’s special needs or challenges.

6. Tour the house together. Remember, these pros will be living in your home. Let them know what’s off limits and what you expect in terms of the house responsibilities, such as collecting mail, putting out garbage, shoveling snow, etc., and emergency procedures, such as turning off the water and gas or disarming the burglar alarm.

7. Leave clear instructions for the house and animals (feeding, medication, etc.), including your vet’s contact information, the closest 24-hour ER vet and back-up assistance. (Be sure your backups know they will be on call.)

8. Request proof of bonding or liability insurance coverage. This is also a good indicator of how professional your sitter really is.

9. Establish all the fees in advance. Another advantage of interviewing several sitters is that it provides a good sense of the going rate in your area for pet-sitting.

10. Stay in touch. Ask if your sitter has any routines for providing status reports via email, text or online. iPhone-toting dog walkers or sitters can manually file reports of your dog’s business via the DogiDuty application. Or you can verify your pup’s daily routine with a SNIF digital dog tag, which will automatically upload a log of your dog’s activities—from napping to sprinting—to an online profile.

News: Guest Posts
Life with an Autism Service Dog
Part I: Getting started

It started with a crazy longing for a dog. We don’t need a dog. We already have three cats and our children are high-need. Our daughter has Asperger’s (a high-functioning form of autism) and our son has autoimmune issues. My hands are quite full, but somehow I’d find myself looking at petfinder.com, or the Greyhound rescue sites, or the Golden Retriever rescue sites. I’d stare longingly at the faces in need of adoption. I’d send their photos to my husband’s e-mail at work. He’d e-mail back, “We don’t need a dog.”  I knew he was right.

Then, about a year ago, I was asked to review the book A Friend Like Henry by Nuala Gardener. It is about a boy with autism and the amazing gains he made with his Golden Retriever by his side. My wheels started to turn. Is it possible a dog could help with the intense meltdowns our daughter experiences when she becomes overwhelmed? Is she “autistic enough” for a service dog? With the encouragement of fellow bloggers I checked it out and found 4 Paws for Ability. It is one of the only organizations in the country that places service dogs with children under 18, and yes, they do train dogs for children with Asperger’s.

4 Paws for Ability does not let people purchase service dogs. Each family must fund raise between $11,000 and $14,000 depending on what the dog will be trained to do. The dogs receive between 400 and 600 hours of training before being placed with a family. The families must also be trained and are required to attend a ten-day session in Xenia, Ohio, where 4 Paws is located.  

We thought it would take at least a year to raise the funds, but once my husband and I got over our pride and asked for help, the money came pouring in. Musician friends altruistically performed a benefit concert in our hometown in upstate New York. Friends, neighbors and a local church made generous donations. The power of the Internet was lassoed and virtual friends who’d followed my blog came out of the woodwork to donate money. One blogger friend organized a fund-raising autism/mommy blogger dinner in Boston with author John Elder Robison who wrote a book about growing up with undiagnosed Asperger’s. 

To our amazement, we raised $11,000 in less than two months. The goodness of people is overwhelming.

Then came the waiting. For ten months we didn't know who our dog would be. In the meantime, we had to videotape Riley’s meltdowns and send the tapes off to 4 Paws. As the time drew near, they studied the tapes and matched her with the perfect dog for her.

Jingle is her name-o! We met her this week. She is an adorable Australian Shepherd/Boxer mix and we are here in Xenia, Ohio, in the middle of training. I’m typing this from our hotel room. (Yes, we bring the dog back to the hotel with us every night for ten days!)

I'll be blogging throughout the training, and will continue to tell our service dog story at my blog Full-Soul-Ahead! It is a thrill for me that The Bark will be featuring some of these posts on its website. We hope you will join us for this incredible ride.

News: Karen B. London
Is It Okay To Drink And Bark?
Many wineries welcome dogs

Hotels have become more dog friendly, and so have many businesses. Years ago it was rare to walk into a store to be greeted by a dog, but now it’s unremarkable. More and more people are bringing their dogs to work, and they are more common visitors at hospitals, schools, and rehab centers.

Still, it represents a big advance that so many wineries have resident dogs or welcome visitors with their own dogs in tow. In the October 2009 issue of Diablo Magazine, wineries in Northern California that welcome dogs are highlighted. How much nicer is it to take your dog with you for a relaxing weekend in the wine country than to go alone. When you can bring your dog and drink wine, you have found a place where life is good!

News: Karen B. London
Big Even For a Great Dane
George might be the world’s largest dog.

My sister is about an inch shy of six feet and people regularly tell her that she is tall. A lifetime of handling this rudeness (Would you go up to a woman who is five feet tall and proclaim, “You’re short!”?) has yielded many witty replies, but my favorite is, “Well, I’m definitely not shopping in the petite section.” That’s all I could think of when I read about George, whose owners are trying to get him in the Guiness Book of World Records as the world’s largest dog. At 42 inches tall and 245 pounds, he is most definitely NOT shopping there either.

Great Danes are the dogs of my childhood and I am quite fond of them. I love the way they sit on couches (and laps!) in a posture that few breeds can assume. I enjoy the way they clear the coffee table with one wag of those whip-like tails. I love the galloping gait they have and the specific shapes of their massive paws.

The dogs we know as young children stay with us forever. I cannot help myself—I must go meet every Great Dane I see. (Occasionally I am able to resist meeting dogs of other breeds, but not often. And with Great Danes, never!) Does anybody else feel a particular affinity to a certain breed, even if, like me, you don’t currently have one in your home?

News: Guest Posts
Tell Us Your Love Stories
Do dogs bring us closer to our fellow humans?

In his essay for The New York Times “Modern Love” column on Sunday, Bob Morris described how a nine-pound longhaired miniature Dachshund souped up his love life. What is wonderful about the story is that Morris doesn’t end with simply describing his newfound canine affection, he makes an important extrapolation: His love for Zoloft (the pup's name), as well as his partner’s love for same, has combined for more love all around. Any fears over competing for love have dissolved in a rising tide of devotion.

My husband once described how his family’s first dog had a similar impact. An effusive Golden Retriever named Minnie wiggled and wagged her way past the family’s Minnesota reserve until the outward expression of love became a little easier for everyone.

All this got us at The Bark wondering about how dogs bring people together or enhance existing relationships among humans. Have you seen canine cupids at work? We’d love to hear your stories and may include our favorites in a piece for the magazine. Post your story below.

News: JoAnna Lou
Dining with the Whole Family
Searching for dog friendly restaurants is becoming easier for pet lovers.

I’ve always envied Parisian restaurants where you can dine with your furry companions, a practice banned stateside by our health codes. Eating with my pups is one of my favorite warm weather activities, although I’ve braved the cold many times to enjoy a meal with the whole family!

I’m always on the lookout for good restaurants with decks or sidewalk spaces, although not even all places with outdoor seating allow pets. Once I was even asked to tie my pups to a tree across the sidewalk. Needless to say, I didn’t eat there!

Online reservation website, Open Table, recently published a list of the best pet-friendly restaurants, compiled from user reviews. They included several in New York City, but left out two of my favorites -- Fred’s, named after a Labrador and whose customers’ dog photos adorn every free space on the walls, and Fetch, host of weekend adoption events and whose walls feature homeless canines.

I’ve also been able to find restaurants by searching “pet friendly” on Yelp’s message boards and by looking through Citysearch’s reviews. DogFriendly.com and PetFriendlyTravel.com also maintain databases of eateries that welcome pups.

Do you have favorite restaurants that welcome your four legged crew?

News: Karen B. London
Find Your Dog A Date
Matchmaking for canines

I once introduced a friend of mine to my roommate because I felt so strongly that they would like each other. Now that they’ve been married for six years and have two kids, I still consider my matchmaking success with them to be among the biggest accomplishments of my life. Her dog even fell in love with him, so the happiness was complete all around. (This couple happens to be in a picture together that I took in the photo section of Patricia McConnell's book The Other End of the Leash. It shows them kissing to illustrate that this is a primate form of affection and very different from the ways that dogs express affection.)

The urge to make introductions runs strong in many people, but perhaps never more so than in the case of Mike D’Elena, who started the site FindMyDogADate.com. When his roommate moved out and took his own dog with him, Mike’s dog Mika was left missing her best canine friend. Rather than have her continue moping about the house, Mike tried to find her some new playmates by asking neighbors, making phone calls and using Craig’s list, but he had no luck. A few months later, his new website was born out of necessity.

The site, based in Phoenix, Ariz., already has hundreds of dogs registered. Using the free site, people can find companions for their dogs by searching for dog buddies based on size, breed, personality and what activities they are looking to share. Whether someone is seeking hiking or walking companions or another dog for vigorous romping, FindMyDogADate.com just may provide a link to that perfect partner.

So many human couples have met online in recent years. It’s about time dogs had that same opportunity.

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